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Monday, 9 September 2013

Washday blues? Not these days.

I was putting a tray back in its place this morning and this old flat iron, which I use as a stop, caught my eye and my thoughts went to washdays back in the days when these things were used.  Some of you will remember that in the 1950s I lived with my mother for a while at my grandfather's house in the Forest of Dean and that things there even then were much as they had been when Granny was alive - no electricity, no gas, no mains water, no mains drainage and so washday was for my mother as it would have been for Granny back in the early 1900s. Washday really was a specific day and doing the family laundry took all day since with no mains water in the house every drop of water used had to be carried from the tap in the leanto building next door - one cold tap between two houses - and of course in Granny's day would have had to come from the well in the garden.  Then of course it had to be heated - kettles and saucepans on the range so the fire needed to be stoked up.  The hot water was poured into a galvanised bath and cold water added from a bucket and then the washing could commence (kettles and pans being refilled and set back on the fire to heat in readiness for either another wash or for rinsing).  I remember a big bar of yellow Sunlight soap being used or sometimes a bar of green Fairy and later Omo or Tide washing powder.

Of course since there was no mains drainage every drop of water used in the process of doing the weekly wash had to be carried outside and either flung on the garden (in the case of rinsing water) or poured down the outside toilet.  Washing was then dried on the line outside unless of course it was raining when it would have to be dried indoors and since the house consisted of just 2 rooms downstairs and 2 bedrooms above it would entail having it on airers round the range or on lines strung overhead and thus the living space was turned into a damp and difficult place to be and getting any dinner made even more difficult as the range was being used as a dryer!  I don't know whether Granny would have used a mangle for her washing but there was no such item when we were living there and so all the washing was wrung out by hand - no spin dryers!

Once dry there was the process of ironing especially as most fabrics back in the early 50s  - and even more so at the beginning of the century when Granny would have been doing it -were not easy care or non-iron and this is where my flat iron would have come in.  A blanket and an old sheet would be placed on the kitchen table to act as an ironing board and the iron heated on the range - It was necessary to have more than one so that as the one in use was cooling down another was heating up in readiness for a swapover.  Of course the irons were then dirty from the fire and also very hot to handle so a pot holder was needed to hold the thing and a spare cloth to wipe off the majority of the soot before the ironing commenced!

No wonder washday was a hard and complicated procedure and I reflected on how lucky I am that I can toss my washing into a machine and leave it to do itself!  When it's done if the weather is unsuitable for drying on the line outside I can put it on an airer in the conservatory or one of the other rooms which I am not using at the time and don't have to have it festooned across the kitchen where I am trying to get the lunch. (I have never felt the need for a tumble dryer but I bet Granny would have loved one!)  I am sure she would have loved the modern fabrics too especially cosy polar fleece which dries so quickly and needs no ironing.

When it is dry enough for ironing I have an electric iron - no smuts on my iron - and an ironing board, though let's be honest here my ironing board is not state of the art being an old wooden one.  Although not adjustable in height is just right for me and I never need to buy a new cover for it as I save old cotton sheets (such as the one in the iron photo) to use when it needs recovering and all that is required is to remove the old sheeting and replace it with the another piece and bang in a few flat headed nails to keep it all in place!  I usually do my ironing in the conservatory as shown here except when it is too hot/cold/dark and the board lives in that tall cupboard which we rescued from the kitchen when we had it refitted to suit our needs on moving in here.

I wonder how many of you have one of these?  I had this when my daughter was a baby and used it for washing her nappies each day and I now use it for washing handkerchiefs (no tissues used here except when we have a cold!) and at other times to boil up my teacloths and dishcloths.  I also give my dusters and floor cloths (pieces of worn out teacloths and towels) a boil occasionally too. (Excuse the state of it but as it lives in the garage and I use it outside the back door I don't bother too much about its appearance!) 

I told you I was weird!

I see that 21 September is designated World Gratitude day and I for one will be grateful that I don't have to do my washing as Granny did!


  1. We should all be thankful for today's technology. I started married life with a Burco boiler and a mangle....but very soon managed to get a twin tub machine!

  2. I remember my mum's old twin tub!
    I love to see a pile of washing flapping on the line in the summer but dread the thought of it hanging around inside our little Hobbit house in the winter!
    I still use starch on all my old linens and lace that I sell! Makes such a difference to the look and feel.
    M x

  3. Do you remember Reckitts Blue Bags to brighten the whites? I used to try to get my hands on them and stain everything possible blue.

  4. My mother had a gas iron when I was a child - fearsome thing with lots of little blue flames heating the sole plate! We also had a huge mangle. Robin starch and Reckitt's blue bags weruch favoured. We had a twintub when we were first married and very efficient it was too, but there's npthing to beat shoving the clothes in and letting them do themselves! Though the old copper boiler had lots of uses - my mother boiled xmas puds for all the family inours ( scoured out first of course).

  5. wow, your ironing board is exactly like ours! Ours belonged to Mr P's grandad and is covered in bits of old sheet just the same, we might be the only people left in Britain still using them! C x

  6. Modern technology has certainly given us more time in our days - but I wonder sometimes how well we use that gift.
    Wonderful story of life as it once was.

  7. Dear Jane,

    Such a lovely recollection of times gone by, I so enjoyed reading this post. I do remember my neighbor back in the seventies when I was little having a wringer washer. I suppose back then it wasn't that ancient, but it always fascinated me!

    Thank you for another lovely post about your childhood, they are always so interesting.

  8. Oh yes! I love my washing machine - such a boon to be able to pop the clothes in at night (on cheap electricity) and hang them out in the morning!
    I remember when we didn't have automatic front-loaders in the UK and everyone said they were dangerous and often dumped all their water over the kitchen floor...


  9. My mum had a gas boiler that connected into the gas poker socket (that was used to light the coke in stove which gave us hot water. The water was heated to boiling and the sheets went in first. Collars and cuffs were scrubbed on the gass washboard. The boiling sheets were hauled into the sink to be rinsed and hand rung. I can rember her twisting them round and round up her arm to stop them falling back into the water. No wonder she had such a strong grip. Mum saved up her Co-op divi for an Acme wringer. I loved to catch the clothes when they went through. Eventually she got a spin dryer, but still used the boiler into the 60s. The last job on wash days, with the remains of the hot water, was to scrub the kitchen floor on her hands and knees. No wonder dinner was cold meat and mash!

  10. Yes, still in the cross over generation - my nan had an old copper for boiling up the water, a dolly and a mangle - I keep one of her flat irons on my kitchen window-cill as a reminder (although also very useful for other jobs!). I too am inordinately grateful for the automatic washing machine.

  11. My mum had a gas heated zinc tub for washing when I was little, she had to fill it with cold water but at least the water heated up easily. She used a flat iron too and I first learned to iron with it - handkerchiefs and pillow slips. I remember her getting her first electric iron - it plugged into the light fitting on the ceiling! Laundry is a whole lot easier now.

  12. I was talking to someone about ironing only yesterday and she expressed her horror at the fact that I iron everything. She said she just washes it, dries it, folds it and puts it away. I think I am a leftover from your Granny's days without all that hassle. No wonder Monday was designated as washday as it must have taken hours to complete the washing etc for a small family. Lovely to be reminded of Omo and Tide etc and Jill's memories in her comment reminded me of putting the washing through my Nan's mangle too. I loved it but thank heavens for labour saving devices!


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